Variety

Blank canvas for Kutch’s famed Rogan artists this Diwali

Rutam Vora Ahmedabad | Updated on November 05, 2020 Published on November 04, 2020

Rogan Artist Sumar Khatri at Nirona Village in Kutch works on the popular ‘Tree of Life’ art piece made by the family members

Festival sales pick up elsewhere, but no cheer in the crafts lane of Nirona Village

Their art graces the walls of the White House in the US. But today, the celebrated Rogan artists of Gujarat, whose fabric painting has travelled the world, fear their unique castor oil paintings may end up with no takers.

The order books of the artisans in Nirona village in Kutch, especially the Rogan art painters and copper bell makers, are almost blank.

About 40 kilometers from Bhuj, the Khatri family in the village, rue the lack of tourists to the area. The only family in the world practising traditional Rogan art - an ancient textile art form with origins in Persia some 300 years ago — have termed this season a complete fail.

“Our buyers are mostly tourists and most of them are NRIs. Due to Covid-19 their visit is not possible this year. There is no outlet for us to sell these art pieces. So, since the lockdown there has been zero sales,” says Sumar Khatri.

Online is not a promising option for this heritage art, they say. “Our products are on Amazon. But a common retail buyer won’t understand their significance and are deterred seeing the price. Normally, when a tourist comes to us, we give them a demo of the preparations. Only then they understand the value of the product. Otherwise, it can be mistaken for an ordinary embroidery work,” says Khatri.

A thick bright-coloured paste of paint/colours mixed with castor oil is carefully twisted into motifs and patterns using a metal rod on one side of the fabric. Once finished on one side, the fabric is folded to create a mirror image of the design.

Limelight

The Khatris shot into limelight in 2014 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi gifted a Rogan art piece called “Tree of Life” (Kalp Vriksha) to then US President Barack Obama.

Desperately seeking buyers, the Khatris have requested the Gujarat government to accommodate their work in the State-sponsored emporiums. “But so far, there is no progress on this,” Khatri said expressing concern about the uncertain future for the next - 8th - generation of the family.

Khatri’s neighbours in the village — the Luhars - known for their handmade copper bells are in the same boat. Twenty three-year-old Farukh Luhar is from one of the three families who are carrying forward the legacy of this rare art to make “Pancha Dhatu” metal bells - made from five-metal alloys of sacred significance.

“Our sales were doing good till the time of lockdown as tourism was doing good. After lockdown I tried to sell through WhatsApp to references from our contacts. But there are negligible orders,” said Luhar, who is a commerce graduate.

Chinese imports

What’s spoiling their market is the Chinese made bells, which are far cheaper. The Luhars’ handmade copper bells are considered auspicious for their sweet-sounding chimes - which is due to its mixture of metal alloys. “The price difference is considerable, though. Our copper bell costs around ₹450-500, whereas the Made in China bell is available at nearly half the price at around ₹200-250. We can’t compete against them,” he rues.

Will the announcement of the four-month long desert festival of Rann Utsav by the Gujarat government change their fortunes? The festival is set to take off on November 12 and will go on till February 28, 2021. It all depends on the tourists.

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Published on November 04, 2020
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